VR’s Potential for Magic Fills this Void
Utah: In an ordinary office complex here, past stacked cartons of Mountain Dew and a throng of hoodie-wearing employees, sits a prototype for an attraction that Hollywood thinks will become the next entertainment craze — an offering that could mint money for its developers, throw a lifeline to struggling shopping malls and, at long last, jump-start sales of virtual reality gear.
“I have seen a lot of great VR experiences, and nothing comes close to what the Void is doing,” said Cliff Plumer, VR startup Void’s CEO. “If anything is going to inspire mass consumer adoption of virtual reality, this is it.” The Void’s invention looks like nothing special. The interior is divided into rudimentary, interconnected rooms. There is no ceiling, unless you count a latticework of cables and sensors. But everyt- hing changes when you put on a special virtual reality headset, pick up a rudimentary plastic gun, slip into a snug vest and strap on small backpack, which has a lightweight computer inside: You and your friends instantly become Ghostbusters. The first room is now a furniture-filled New York apartment crowded with pink poltergeists. That plastic weapon is now a functioning proton gun, just like in the films, and you can use it to zap apparitions (and anything else in view). As the 10-minu- te adventure continues, your group tracks ghosts through the apartment tower — in a fastmoving elevator, outside on a rickety window-washing platform — as some ghouls float through you, arriving with a whoosh of air in your face and a vibration of that vest. Would people, especially young people, pay $20 a head to experience this kind of “hyperreality”? The Void, which has refined the concept of mapping a virtual world over a physical set, believes they will. So far, the Void has been funded by one of its three founders, Ken Bretschneider, who has invested millions. The Void is now working with the Raine Group to raise expansion funding. Circling, at the same time, have been mall owners, multiplex chains and theme park operators.
“All of a sudden, we have some of the most influential people on the planet asking for tours,” said James Jensen, another Void founder. (The third founder is the chief creative officer, Curtis Hickman.) Stephen B Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, has been through a Void prototype. So has Robert A Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company. Last year, Disney even had a Void rig brought to a board meeting so its board of directors could go for a test spin. Various Hollywood filmmakers have tried it themselves, including Steven Spielberg. The Void’s potential may have as much to do with the solutions it offers to other businesses as it does with entertainment.